The Power Of Perception

This Just In: Audience Not Rolling With It

Audience not rolling with it.

The woman in the front row seemed to appear to be doing, in the words of Woody Allen, “literally anything else.” It was hard not to take personally the stare  suggesting that just watching my act was the equivalent to having a rat cage strapped to her face.

I’ll put it this way: whatever she was expressing it wasn’t passive indifference.

My attention drew back to her with increasing frequency during the show until finally I kind-of pointed at her with my nose and and half-laughed “This woman is miserable.”

And then her husband did something I’ll never forget: he patted her on the knee.

Not my most impressive moment. It was the needlessness of it that ate at me. Life onstage isn’t like life – it is life.

After “de-greeting” the audience I approached them with my apologies. I forget exactly what I said but I didn’t do to badly, I have to say myself. What moves audiences are the same things which move them – us – in everyday life: mastery, generosity, the unexpected. Similarly – no, in exactly the same way – audiences recoil at unkindness, sloppiness and card tricks. Right and wrong do not recognize the fact that you “have the floor”, as it were.

I resolved to apologize to the woman and her husband after the show. Fortunately the couple was among the stragglers at the end of the show and at my soonest opportunity, after “de-greeting” the audience I approached them with my apologies. I forget exactly what I said but I didn’t do to badly, I have to say myself.

Anyway, they’re both very nice and were very gracious. I learned they had flown out that day from San Jose, where they live. Then I noticed that the woman had every over-the-counter cold medication you’ve heard of laying there in her lap. She was a CVS with ears.

Hence the evident difficulty hearing me: she had a nasty cold, made worse by a day of air travel.

Anyway, I shook their hands and left re-committed to this tendency of me in certain situations to personalize things. My internal dialogue onstage should have gone like this: “What’s with this woman? Can’t she mock something less than contempt for 45 minutes?” which I then answer “How the hell should I know why she can’t do it. I can’t even figure out how the toaster works. Besides, what difference does it make? She was minding her own business and, as I said, not a distraction to anyone until I decided to make her a distraction to me.

One lesson here is that nobody knows what the hell anybody else is going through in their lives. How often have you met someone who appears to be the embodiment of success in life but you barely have to scratch the surface to learn that, for example, his wife has MS. Sure, most people seem to hold it together pretty well but so do you and we both know you’ve got problems.

“To live is to suffer” wrote Dostoyevski. (Dostoyevski was a compulsive gambler while Tolstoy a vegetarian, which gives you an idea of why Dostoyevski had so much more fun). Who the hell am I to pretend to know what the hell is going on in somebody else’s mind? These people I can barely see but who practically form a dialogue with me through their laughter. (I think comedy as a dialogue: the audience has a line every ten seconds or so and when they miss a cue it’s always my fault).

Whenever you find yourself thinking “Gee, this gal’s got it made”, don’t be so sure. Life has everybody figured out. Everybody.

Roosevelt said “We have nothing to fear but fear itself”. It would be well to add “We have nothing to feel sorry for ourselves about, as others share greater burdens”.

Return to daviDDeeble.com or watch me deal with a 3-year old heckler.

 

 

Compliments, Ranked

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My wife usually has very little to say to me in terms of compliments after even my best shows. I used to take it personally but I’ve since learned that for Germans, the absence of criticism is the highest form of praise.

A compliment is like a drinking problem: it’s best just to accept it graciously.

But some compliments mean more than others. Many comedians are familiar with audience members expressing not just thanks but gratitude after a show, saying that they “needed to laugh that night. What could be more thoughtful and nice? What is routine for me is a big deal for these folks. They’re not flying all over the place watching me perform each night. This may be the only time they see me perform. I try to think of each show as the Olympics – something you only have one crack at, if you’re extremely lucky.

Even – especiallyopen mic nights. I love when expectations are low: it’s easier to meet them.

But what I love most all about some of these compliments is that the humbly remind me that life sucks and the value of taking people’s minds off their problems for an hour or so.

Below are the six greatest compliments, ranked.

6 “I saw your show.” 

This is the worst compliment of all time. Did people go up to John Updike and say “Hey, I read your novel…”? In plain English it means “I deigned to watch your show”. A typical grade schooler calls out “Present” with more passion during morning attendance.

5: “I hear they’re putting the funny guy on tonight instead of you, right?

I got this just yesterday on a cruise ship, referring to the comedian advertised to perform a couple of nights after me. These guys. Dudes who give me this one (it’s alway a fellah) invariably say it as if they’re being so clever. Just showing up and kicking me in the shin would be a more welcome how-do-you do.

4:  “I’m going to go home and juggle the plastic bags.”

Now this is a nice compliment. It has numerous iterations but what’s nice is that it references something specific from the show. As compliments go it’s like a trusty Toyota or my wife’s butt: nothing fancy but gets me where I need to go.

3:You really made me laugh and I really needed to laugh tonight.”

It’s easy to take what you do for a living for granted. That’s why this one hits me like a lightening bolt. It reminds me, among other things, that what is routine to me is an entirely unique experience for the audience. For some this will be the only time they ever see you. I am grateful I am to have work that is inherently meaningful rather than one which is only subjectively so.

2: You made me pee my pants.

This one is oddly popular with middle-aged southern women. It’s adorable and I love it. Sometimes excitedly add add “a little” at the end, as in “You made me pee my pants a little!” As if that somehow makes it better. You peed your pants and admitted it, end of issue.

1: Laughing Too Hard To Form Complete Sentence

My all-time favorite compliment was a guy who saw me after the show and raised his finger with a big smile on his face. But then giggling quickly evolved into laughter then his laughter into near hysterics. Bent over, he finally waived me off and walked on to recover.

That was a nice compliment.

Return to www.daviDDeeble.com or watch my 2-year old daughter appear to beat the living daylights out of me.

 

New Material

If it weren't for space exploration we wouldn't have all this new, space-age material.

If it weren’t for space exploration we wouldn’t have all this new, space-age material.

I’m in the middle of attempting to write 20 minutes of new stand-up material over a 20 day period. This is several orders of magnitude more than I would normally write. I don’t think I’ll succeed but I figure that that even if I fall well short I’ll end up with more new material than I would otherwise. And new material is fun-to-perform material.

Bold text represents the new jokes I’ll will be debuting tonight at a fundraiser in Oxnard, California.

Can you predict how well any given joke will be received? Let me know which ones you think will be worth trotting out to a second audience and which ones will spook me sufficiently that I don’t dare to try them ever again. Don’t be shy and remember: I appreciate your input!

(Note: Gentle Reader – Please read the words below as though they were being spoken on the stage rather read from the page. If you’d like to familiarize yourself with my delivery, visit my stand-up channel on YouTube.)

❉❉❉

I’ll tell you a little about myself before we get started: I’m married. I got married old school – to a woman.

Getting married was the best decision I ever made. I’ll never forget sliding on that wedding ring for the very first time and thinking “I am someone else’s problem now”.

We got off to a rocky start right when I decided to use “air quotes” during the exchange of wedding vows.

We have three kids – one of each.

We were extremely fortunate the way it worked out for us in that regard: we actually planned each of our children, although I should point out we didn’t actually get any of the ones that we planned.

I love having kids – they’re like forgivable versions of yourself. 

The worst thing I can say about living with small children is that every horizontal surface of our home is covered with Legos. Our house got to the point where I finally had to put my foot down – and it hurt like hell.

Our youngest is a two-year old girl – this kid has not slept once in her entire life. Isn’t it amazing how you can love a kid before it’s even born but not afterwards?

She was born during the SuperBowl but thanks to TiVo I didn’t have to miss the game. In fact, I can now watch her being born anytime I want.

Our oldest is a teenager. That’s a cute age, isn’t it? I often wonder if all teenagers rebel regardless of the culture they grow up in. I always imagine some 13-year old kid growing up in the deep, dark jungles of Brazil. One day he comes home and decides he’s not going to wear that bone in his nose anymore. Do his parents give him “the speech”? “As long as you’re living in my thatched hut you’re wearing a bone in your nose. Now take off that suit and tie and strap a leaf between your legs – you look ridiculous.”

My wife is from Germany and we were told that if my wife only speaks German to the kids and I only speak to them in English then they’ll eventually learn both languages fluently. And that’s precisely how it worked for our daughters but the boy is now 6-years old and speaks only Dutch.

Dutch is a loopy-sounding language, isn’t it? It’s like German after three-too-many Heinekens. Actually, he speaks German and English very well. He does get the two confused, though. He’ll say things like “airplane haben” or “Lass uns outside laufen”. It’s cute now because he’s six. What about when he gets to college and says things like “Boys: let’s get hammerschlubend”.

Having bilingual children has made me appreciate how tricky English can be to learn. For example, everyday I’ll have the same conversation with my son. He’ll say “Dad, look what I did do”. Then I’ll explain “Now Luke, remember, in English you never say “Look what I did do”. It’s “Look what I did”. Then he’ll dutifully reply “Look what I did.” Then I say “Very good. Now what did you do?”

German, on the other hand, is a great language for cutting somebody down to size. If you’ve ever been chastised in English, have it translated into German and you’ll realize how easy you got off. In German, even “I love you” sounds like “We have ways of making you talk”.

Kids today seem so far removed from anything remotely dangerous or unhealthy. I grew up on a steady diet of toy guns and candy cigarettes. Where were my parents, you ask? In the living room going through a pack of real cigarettes a day.

As a comedian married to a German, needless to say, I sometimes have to go outside the marriage for laughs. Let’s face it: trying to make a German laugh is like looking for Dick Cheney at Burning Man for crying out loud.

We argue about money sometimes. For example, she thinks we can afford a pool boy but I’m worried that if I cave on that we’re going to have to end up getting a pool as well.

She thinks I’m bad with money. How can I be bad with money when I’ve never even had any?

Sometimes my wife will see me looking at other women and then accuse me of comparing her to them, which is ridiculous because when I look at other women my wife is the last thing on my mind.

To the extent that there’s any friction between us, though, it’s generally due to cultural differences. For example, after even by best shows my wife usually has nothing to say about it. I used to take it personally but I’ve since learned that for Germans, the absence of criticism is the highest form of praise.

And Sabine thinks the baby ought to play with these wooden toys they made by hand in Germany; I’m American and think she ought to play with plastic toys mass-produced in China.

We do both believe in working hard but even there we’re often at odds: as an American I work hard so that she doesn’t have to and as a German she works hard so that Greeks don’t have to.

We’ve lived in  Germany and for several years but decided to settle in the U.S., though we had different motivations for doing so: she just wants to enjoy California’s year-round climate and I just want her to have the right to remain silent.

I enjoyed living in Europe because every city is so unique. Venice, for example: a beautiful, romantic city. Although I don’t think I’d enjoy it as much without my wife. Amsterdam, on the other hand, is even more enjoyable.

My wife’s becoming quite the wine aficionado – she cal tell a red from a white and stuff.

Return to www.daviDDeeble.com

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Funny vs. Not Funny: A Primer

Extreme shortness: funny

Height extremes: funny

Well-defined abs: unfunny

Well-defined abs: unfunny

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

People ask me all the time: “Mr. Deeble, can you teach funny?” I always say the same thing: “You will address me as Dave or David: I believe I’ve earned it”. Which brings me to tip #1: be funny right off the bat.

Let me save you some time: despite proliferation of books, workshops and comedians which purport to teach you how to be funny, comedy cannot be taught. No one considers a particularly funny person and thinks “Boy, she’s really well-taught”. Why can’t comedy be taught? Because comedy requires comedic instincts and great comedy requires great comedic instincts. And you can’t teach instinct.

Take an example: well-defined abs. Few things in the world are more unfunny than a chiseled pack of six-pack abs. A thought experiment: recall of one of the funniest people (famous or otherwise) you are aware of when you were witnessing him at the height of his hilarity. Was it your co-worker at that time at the Christmas party? Was it Brian Regan talking about how great it’d be at parties to be one of the men 12 who’s walked on the moon?Whatever it was, remember what it was like to experience in real time what this person said or did that struck you as so hilarious. Recall what it felt like, both physically and emotionally, to engage in that wonderful thing called uncontrollable laughter. Got it? Good. Now imagine once again but this time imagine the hilarious person with chiseled, six-pack abs. He just got considerably less funny, didn’t he?

Probably it has something to do with the discipline, vanity and low-fat diet that great abs connote. If possessing one or even two of these attributes makes being funny an uphill battle, then great abs are the trifecta of unfunny.

Let me be clear: merely having great abs is not disqualifying. But like a medical doctor educated in the Caribbean, it’s best to keep it to yourself. In other words, don’t be this guy.

As long as we’re talking about physical attributes, being a “little person” is about as funny as you get. And not just because the term “little person” seems more offensive than the term it replaced, though that helps (offensiveness is funny. We’ll call that tip #2). And though I’m not a “little person” in the clinical sense (I can drive a car and stuff) I’m sufficiently diminutive to get away with jokes like these.

Which brings me to one of the great things about comedy: good looks are hindrance (call it tip #3 for maximum clickability). If you’re regular-looking, you’re ahead of the game. You may even be able to get away with slightly-above average looks. But people with aggressive good looks have a hard time of it, especially when they first come on stage. It’s distracting! The sooner the audience stops looking at you and starts listening to you, the more success you’ll have.

If you want to be a success at comedy but suffer from inordinate good looks, take my advice: give it a couple decades.

Thoughts? Comments? Leave them below.

Return to www.daviddeeble.com or see why I’d make a lousy magician.

There’s Nothing Like Telling A Joke For The Second Time

How I work is I write down my thoughts, edit them down to size and then tell them to audiences as if they had just occurred to me. It’s sort of like acting in a play which you also wrote.

One of the challenges of performing new material is maintaining the same demeanor (i.e., feigning the same confidence) as those jokes which are time-tested. It’s like suddenly bluffing in poker after a long series of hot hands.

It’s very gratifying to try new material which receives the desired response. But in stand-up comedy the real rush comes from a new joke’s second telling because you know the audience will place a coda of laughter at the end. As a result, my anxiety is replaced with anticipation, uncertainty with confidence. Instead of anticipating and observing the audience reaction my mind is free focus on my delivery, which enhances my confidence, which increases the audience’s enjoyment, and so on.

It’s a virtuous cycle.

Thoughts, comments or angry retorts? Leave them in the comment section below.

Return to daviDDeeble.com.

 

Sincerity and Sarcasm

Sarcasm is a funny thing. As evidence, I cite the fact that my mom doesn’t get it. But as a comedian it’s easy to forget that offstage – and in social media –  a little sincerity goes a long way.

I’m a big fan of sarcasm. All forms of comedy being equal, sarcasm might be my favorite. And there are times just hanging out offstage when when I engage it, especially when commiserating.

But a disinclination to be sincere is entirely different.

We all value sincerity, even – no, especially – those who are incapable of it. The man or woman incapable of sincerity is like the comedienne who is “always on” or the man who lacks the courage and maturity to say what he means and mean what he says. (Maturity, like sincerity, is a value which has fallen out of fashion, causing us  to ache for it even more).

If you’re like me, sincerity doesn’t come easy. It makes one feel vulnerable. But try it on for size and see how people react. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

If I’d known how happy marrying Sabine Kaintzyk would make me I would have done it long ago. #FinallyGrewUp

Return to daviddeeble.com.

How I Started Standing Up: Part II

Over time, my stand-up comedy became a natural prelude to my “Unnatural Act”. Here I am performing face juggling with a billiard and a ping pong ball.

I didn’t start doing stand-up until my mid-thirties. I had a lot of experience speaking to audiences by that time, however: I had been performing for nearly two-decades as a comedy juggler. When I started hitting open-mics in Denver and elsewhere working on my first five minutes of stand-up material, I would walk on stage with a highlighter pen, a slap bracelet, two half dollars and a billiard ball neatly concealed in my pockets and a host of other time-tested accouterment. The moment I lost trust in (or, just as likely, simply blanked on) my stand-up material, I’d hit the eject button and break-out the props from my pocket and then could coast from there.

Sometimes I’d bail on the stand-up if I if I had the least little memory lapse. Not wishing to be seen looking at my crib sheet, if I had one,  I’d simply bail and boom! my variety act would inflate in seconds and I was gold again.

When I stopped working with a crib sheet on the stage stool – it all seems so shabby now – is when I really progressed in terms of memorization (a facet of the job which was much less onerous than I feared when I realized I only have to memorize as I write, not commit to memory a 45-minute set.

Crib sheets are a crutch, not to mention an unwelcome distraction to the audience to see you pouring or – sometimes worse – glancing over your notes. Stand-up comedy is a conversation between the audience and the comedian. Why give them even a brief invitation to end the conversation?

Anyway, if I bailed on the stand-up (or just had more time to fill) I’d produce a highlighter pen from my pocket and and noticed an unmistakable increase in focus from the audience: the comedian is doing something unexpected and suddenly everyone’s curious about what’s going to happen next. That was a powerful thing to harness for me and has been ever since.

I learned the importance of being interesting at all times. I wish lecturers and teachers would learn this from the best comedians! It’s pretty simple: engage the audience and start telling jokes.

I learned to resist any urge to be explicit with the audience about demanding their attention: I pretended to just assume it. “Never let them see you sweat” became my mantra, if not my motto.

In terms of developing material I would have been better off without all those props, as all it did in the end was postpone my emergence from hypersensitive in terms of audience reaction to sort of a “Trust, but verify” approach: I don’t sweat any given moment but keep my eyes on the big picture.

And for the love of God, don’t be loud. What’s that? You have to “sell” the material? Please. Have you stood in the back of the room beneath the speakers and shouted into the microphone as you do? It’s horrible.

My friend and one of my favorite comedians in Jeff Wayne. He taught me a lot of valuable things. Among them was “Of course if a joke gets absolutely no response, you have to comment on it. But as long as you’re getting something – anything – from the audience, you’re best bet is to smile and get on with it.

A lot of it is the overall impression you leave with the audience during the show. Little things can undermine your credibility or like ability. Sometimes jokes stop being funny for no apparent reason. Easy come, easy go!

Many of my fellow open-mic comedians were the exact opposite. They seemed to be utterly oblivious to the audience’s non-reaction. I’d see the same guys week after week sharing onstage the same stories, telling the same anecdotes (rarely did they tell “jokes”, i.e., “As a comedian married to a German I sometimes have to go outside the marriage for laughs…” ). The hacks plow through their material like bloodthirsty wolverines, utterly indifferent to the audience’s reaction

I was the other way: I had to learn to resist my tendency to be hypersensitive and made even more so because I had in my pockets the comedy equivalent to the military’s meals Ready To Eat.

Another good rule of thumb I learned from Jeff: if you hear or see something from the stage that the audience can’t hear or see, forget about it. They don’t know what you’re talking about. Get back to the jokes.

It takes discipline to sit down and write daily, whether it’s a stand-up comedy bit, a blog or prose or fiction of any length. Writing what comes to mind throughout the day is easy:  jokes, like trouble in New York, find me. I write throughout the day (except on those not-infrequent days when theres no signal) so that I can get on with my day. Staring at a blank screen while standing over the joke hole just doesn’t work for me. If I am going to transition to longer-form writing – maybe take baby steps with some two liners? – then I will have to learn to sit down and organize my thoughts. Just learning to be not-necessarily funny when writing is a challenge.

In the meantime, I have succeeded making my bed most days. The good Admiral McRaven is right: one of the satisfactions of making your bed each morning is repairing to it each night. Here’s my made bed.

Anyway, this signal I’ve been receiving makes my job mostly clerical: sorting the jokes by category (I keep every joke in a single document and hashtag it with one of the above routines that would likely provide cover for it. For example, a joke about my wife would be tagged with #family). I then gauge the jokes onstage with my patented “Tell joke, listen to audience reaction” stand-up comedy system.

I learned I wouldn’t write anything funny until I found I was performing it regularly. Looking back at my first notebooks I literally wonder: “What was I aiming at here?” The notebook was quiet and comfortable and never tested me. So the problem was I wasn’t going out there to perform stand-up enough. You have to be a writer and a performer – a rare combination.

At real gigs I’d throw in a line here or there during my show, but the audience wasn’t expecting stand-up and if they had, they would have been disappointed. A couple of reliable lines here and there, yes, but nothing qualifying as an actual bit.

I had to begin performing as a stand-up regularly to figure out who I was really writing for. My only clue to answer the question “What’s my persona gonna be?”  was the from observing the patter and speaking-style I employed in my comedy juggling act. There was surely a lot of overlap in in my stand-up persona and my variety act persona – but whatever rough transition remained I hope I have polished into something deemed seamless.

I knew it important to meld the two modes together stylistically, especially since it became apparent that my juggling days were numbered. I have the advantage, too, that audiences tend to get giddy when my kind-of nerdy, boastful comedian personae suddenly gives way  to this nerdy, boastful juggler persona who’s kicking a billiard balls into his eye socket and stuff.

Stand-up comedy also made me at once more self-aware and less self-conscious. I learned that I was kind of clever, not to mention preoccupied with TSA guidelines. Stylistically, I  strive to be a pretty cool customer who manipulates the audience onto his wavelength without appearing to be striving do so. My motto is “Never let ’em see you sweat”.

When I finally started performing stand-up regularly – in-and-around Denver – I had an interesting perspective. Backstage, I’d be surrounded more-or-less relaxed open-mic guys who had more experience than me in stand-up but whose overall performing experience was dwarfed by my own (having performed some iteration of my comedy juggling act my whole adult life). I remember at one venue in a relatively small but beautiful old stone theater in Arvada we were told shortly before the show that the microphone wasn’t functioning and we’d simply do without.

Well, you could’ve knocked me over with a feather. For the other guys it seemed a minor detail. Holding a microphone in my hand was for me a welcome thumb to suck and served as a small equalizer between a novice like me, who had long grown accustomed to speaking with both hands free – and guys who had been hitting the open mic for months or years. In other words, holding a microphone was comforting luxury for me and deprived it I felt distracted. For them, it simply meant they’d have to do their act the way they’ve done it many times before: at other open mics, at home in the shower, driving, or whatever.

Memorization and desensitization were other big factors: memorizing my material and desensitizing myself from constantly checking the pulse of the audience and learning to simply charge on.

The microphone looms larger in the mind of comedians than most audiences will believe. What’s the big deal? Remove it from the stand and put it back when you’re done! But my friend and arguably world’s funniest man Phil Tag likes to rehearse his stand-up when possible on the stage with the lights under show conditions and the microphone on. For a guy who’s been doing it for decades and with appearances on The Tonight Show, you’d think he’d enjoy the comedian’s unique privilege of not requiring much, if any, tech rehearsal.

Over time, I would learn the lesson which I still apply to so many aspects of life: that most things that happen during a show are as big a deal to the audience as they appear to be to you.  If doing your set without a hand-held microphone is no big deal to you, it will be a non-issue to the audience. The same goes for your bald head, paunch, cleft lip, whatever.

Mentally, I divide my stand-up into a handful of routines, or, to save time, I call “bits”. They are, in the generic order I do them, whatever that means:

family; drinking; work/little man; S.F. vs. L.V.;/gambling; dad; headlines; nude cruise; reading; credit/ID theft; stimulus/ hair gel/flying;

I did not write out any of these routines in anything close to a linear fashion. As outlined above, I just wrote stuff down throughout the day and over the above themes emerged and coalesced as I cherry-picked jokes like these.

By not straying from my comfort zone I’ve been able, over time, to generate a stand-up comedy act which aesthetically and temperamentally suits me nicely enough. If I am going to write anything of any length, though, I’ll l have to leave my comfort zone.

When I’m ready, I’ll let you know about it.

Thanks for reading,

Dave

Return to www.daviDDeeble.com

Big, Empty and Quiet: 7 Ways to Foster Energy in an Otherwise Dead Room

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Sometimes by solving one problem you create another.

This came to mind recently when I performed on a cruise line featuring something called “freestyle cruising”. Long gone are the bad old days when passengers had two choices: dinner followed by a show or a show followed by dinner. Today, passengers make reservations to eat whenever they like – and at an increasing variety of onboard restaurants. In addition to dinner reservations, passengers have a long list of other by-appointment activities to participate in such as rock climbing or ice skating. This means more options for passengers and more onboard revenue for the cruise line. But here’s the rub: as onboard options proliferate, some passengers now complain about a lack of opportunity to take in each night’s headline entertainment.

One cruise line’s solution was to adopt what they call their “3/35” format: instead of the industry standard of two nightly, 45-50 minute performances, passengers now have three seatings to choose from, with each show lasting only 35 minutes.

Having protected itself from passenger complaints about lack of opportunity to get good seats at the shows, the cruise line now receives a new complaint: the extraordinarily low-key atmosphere that prevails these sparsely-attended, third-seating performances. This problem would be less acute in a small venue, but with showrooms at sea increasingly the size of small countries, one of the three shows invariably feels more like a dress rehearsal: an ideal atmosphere for teenagers in the audience to make out in semi-privacy but hardly the high energy environment one strives for in a live show. The message sent is less “It’s showtime!” than “Here’s your third-seating performance now leave us alone, you ding bats.”

Having come the long way around the barn, here are eight simple practices to avoid the “dead room” effect.

1: Provide incentives for people to sit near the stage. In the example above, the cruise line could place on each front-row seat a free bingo card or raffle ticket or one of the  trinkets (coffee mugs, key chains) for which passengers have shown themselves willing to knock over old ladies and infants.

2: Close off the balcony. But what if someone insists on watching from the balcony? Then make something up. Tell them the balcony seats have just been shampooed. That it’s just been fumigated and poisonous for a while. Or better yet, be straightforward and tell them the truth: that it’s your policy to close the balcony so long as there are seats available below.

3: Arrange for ushers to politely encourage people to sit near the front and you’ll find that others will soon follow suit without any prompting. Remember that people are far more inclined to sit near the front if they aren’t the first to do so.

4: Tape-off the back rows or, better yet, splurge for some seat covers  (“Reserved”!) to funnel people toward the sweet spot: front and center.

5: Play some pre-show music already! It can be high-energy like The Beatles’ cover of “Twist and Shout!” or classic ballads like Ella Fitzgerald’s version of “Bewitched”. The main that is that it isn’t intrusive and adds to the atmosphere and anticipation. Burning 45-minutes of music onto a disc and playing it on a loop costs pennies and goes a long way to creating the atmosphere you want. What are you waiting for?

6: Three words: balloons, beach balls. I’ve performed for audiences which got so much pre-show enjoyment from watching someone send corkscrew-shaped balloons rocketing toward the ceiling or by batting around a beach ball that I got the impression they would have been content to do so the rest of the evening. If anything, the commencement of the show proper can actually be a letdown (not advised if where beverages are available).

7: For the love of God, have the courtesy to give an on-stage introduction. Asking an entertainer “Would you like an on-stage introduction?” is another way of saying “Are you going to insist I put on some pants?” Don’t fax it in, do your job. If you know a great, short joke that you can tell forwards and backwards, by all means, tell it. If you can engage the audience in anyway, by all means do so. Anything you can do to remind the audience that they are part of the show rather than idle observers is a step in the right direction.

These are just some of the ways to create some energy in an otherwise dead room. If you have thoughts on the subject, leave a comment below.

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